The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is a critical vehicle for Mitsubishi in the United States. As many other models such as the Eclipse, Galant and Endeavor are being phased out, the Outlander Sport was the most recent mainstream addition to the line-up since the Lancer was redesigned in 2008 – not including the all-electric i-MiEV. Unlike other global market, Mitsubishi’s U.S. model line-up is severely limited, but the Outlander Sport was a promising new model added for 2011 in one of the industry’s most hotly contested segments. Aside from the mid-size sedan segment, the compact crossover market in which the Outlander Sport has seen impressive growth in recent years with new vehicles being added or redesigned just about every year and most automakers expect this trend to continue. Now in its second model year, we had a chance to drive the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport for this weeklong road test and review, so keep reading to find out how this small crossover manages to perform in this ever-changing market.
Currently, the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is built in Okazaki, Japan, but this summer, production will shift to Mitsubishi’s plant in Normal, Ill. where the Galant is built and formerly the Eclipse and Endeavor. The 2012 Outlander Sport is available in two trim levels (ES and SE) with a starting MSRP of $18,795 with our SE tester starting at $21,995. Check the price on the Honda CR-V and you'll notice that this higher trim level is still about $1,000 less, and the Outlander Sport's value is likely to be its biggest reason for purchase. After adding in a couple pricey but well-equipped option packages, the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport used for this review had an as-tested price of $27,150 including $810 for destination.
If not for competition like the Nissan Juke, Mazda CX-5 and Kia Sportage, the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport could easily be one of the sportiest compact crossovers on the market. Unfortunately, in the two short years since the Outlander Sport was introduced, the Juke, CX-5 and Sportage have all come along and proven that sporty small CUVs is not a niche segment, and this quartet of stylish crossovers means that you don’t have to sacrifice your pride to drive a well-proportioned, fuel-efficient utility vehicle. Despite being in a very lucrative segment, Mitsubishi is still at a major disadvantage; Toyota sold more RAV4s in February alone than Mitsubishi has sold total all year. Things aren’t all gloomy for the Outlander Sport as its sales are up about 6 percent through February making it the second-best selling model in Mitsubishi’s line-up after the Lancer.
There is no mistaking the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport for anything other than a Mitsubishi… and that’s a great thing. The exterior styling of the Outlander Sport is by far its best trait starting with the signature shark nose grille and the horizontal, scalloped headlights. Living up to its name, Mitsubishi designers gave the Outlander Sport a sporty styling with compact proportions to make it one of the best-looking models in this segment. Although it carries the Outlander name, the Sport is about 15 inches shorter in overall length and slightly narrower in width than its three-row counterpart while riding on an identical wheelbase. If it weren’t for the Lancer Sportback, it would be easy to think of the Outlander Sport as a hatchback version of Mitsubishi’s top-selling sedan since it shares so many styling cues with the Lancer right down to the crisp, upward angled body creases. Subtle cues help distinguish the SE from the base ES, and this includes 18-inch, eight-spoke alloy wheels, HID headlights (compared to halogen on ES) and a chrome exhaust tip.
Like the exterior styling, the inside of the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is very similar to other current Mitsubishi models only instead of a flashy, aggressive look, the cabin is dark with a straightforward design. While the overall cabin styling is nothing to get too excited about, the 2012 Outlander Sport does have plenty of bright spots including the soft touch points (including door panel armrests and instrument panel), a sporty cockpit area with a large dual-pod gauge cluster and magnesium shift paddles and comfortable seating for five passengers. The SE trim level adds in even more standard features to appreciate such as automatic headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless push-button entry and a sliding adjustable front center armrest. The 2012 Outlander Sport SE also comes with an upgraded "premium 3D emboss fabric" providing a unique texture to the center portion of the seat backs and seat bottoms both for the front and rear seats. Speaking of the rear seats, with it folded out of the way, the Outlander Sport offers up to 49.5 cubic feet of cargo volume or up to 21.7 cubic feet when the seat is in place; both figures are fairly decent when compared to the Outlander Sport's more stylish and sporty compact crossover rivals.
Adding more of a "wow" factor, our 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport test vehicle added two option packages that should be highly considered by anyone interested in buying this crossover. First up was the $2,050 Premium Package that came with a panoramic glass roof with adjustable LED accents, a backup camera with the display shown on the auto-dimming rearview mirror, black roof rack rails and a 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate nine-speaker audio system (including a massive subwoofer in the cargo area). We also tested out the Outlander Sport's $2,295 Navigation System Package which featured a touch-screen display with decent size and resolution along with a music server and real-time traffic updates.
All 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport models come with a 2.0-liter inline-four under the hood which is good for 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. In base ES form, customers have the choice between a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), but the Outlander Sport SE is only available with the latter. With the CVT, the engine seemed underpowered and overworked, but we would like to think that the manual gearbox would keep the engine’s revs in check a little bit better while delivering better driver control. A capable all-wheel drive is an option on the 2012 Outlander Sport, but our tester had the base front-wheel drive configuration which returned EPA fuel economy estimates of 25 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and a rating of 27 mpg in combined driving.
A couple years ago, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport would have been class-leading with its performance and styling, but the all-new Mazda CX-5 and the second-generation Kia Sportage have come along quickly redefining what an affordable and sporty crossover feels like. Even worse for the Outlander Sport, the Nissan Juke proves that a CVT doesn’t have to be painfully boring and embarrassingly slushy. With its racing engine speeds, this CVT – along with the excessive engine and wind noise that make their way into the cabin – makes it seem like you are traveling MUCH faster than you actually are. The good news is that the Outlander Sport does come with column-mounted paddle shifters shared with the Lancer Evolution for some simulated manual shift points, but the band-driven transmission feels too spongy and unresponsive compared to the Evo's DCT. CVT aside, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is a fun little CUV that is light and nimble on the road, and while it won’t win any acceleration contests, it can still put a smile on your face. For those looking to avoid the CVT altogether, the Outlander Sport does offer a six-speed manual transmission, but the packaging of the 2012 model means that you can only get this gearbox with the base ES model only.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport has not been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) but did receive a four-star rollover rating. Over at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Outlander Sport received "Good" ratings in both frontal- and side-impact tests, but it has not yet been tested for roof strength or rear-impact protection. All 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport models do come standard with plenty of advanced safety features that include seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag), active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, traction control, Active Stability Control (ASC) and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Despite plenty of technology and its sporty looks, the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is overshadowed by its outdated powertrain. In just its second year on the market, Mitsubishi says that its Outlander Sport has received updates to reduce NVH and improve the CVT, but these two areas continue to be the biggest downfalls of this stylish compact crossover. Buyers smitten with the aggressive Mitsubishi face might want to stick with the base manual transmission to make this car more exciting, but aside from one of the worst CVTs on the market, the Outlander Sport does bring plenty of value to the table. Of course, this all depends on if you can actually find a Mitsubishi dealership in the first place with the company only estimating its American dealer network at around 400 dealers.
Mitsubishi provided the vehicle for this review Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross